Thursday, 29 April 2004
An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report and Final Stages.
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad.
For the convenience of Senators I have arranged for the printing and circulation to them of those amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have also circulated the proposed grouping in the House. The first grouping of amendments consists of amendments Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 6. A Senator may contribute once on each grouping. I remind Senators that the only matters which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.
Is cúis áthais dom a bheith ar ais sa tSeanad chun deireadh a chur leis an mBille an-thábhachtach seo. I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and the House for receiving me again. I will speak to amendments Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 6.
These amendments relate to the inclusion of a new Part 4 to the Bill to provide for amendment of the Registration of Potato Growers and Potato Packers Act 1984. The Collective Citation and the Long Title have also been amended consequent on the introduction of this new Part 4. Part 4 amends sections 2 and 3 of the Registration of Potato Growers and Potato Packers Act 1984. The registration number of the grower and the registration number of the packer will now be required to be displayed on packaged potatoes.
The amendment to section 3 is to reflect current demands and expectations regarding the traceability of food. The purpose of this amendment is provide full traceability of the potato pack to the primary producer.
Currently, the potato packers' number is shown on the package in the majority of sales at retail level. While traceability is available to the Department of Agriculture and Food via the packers' number, as matters stand it is not immediately obvious to the consumer. Today's consumers want this information readily available and will often purchase food on the basis of knowledge of the origin of the product. Traceability, quality control and food safety have become a feature of retail sales due to the various health scares and a comprehensive traceability system provides assurance for everybody, buyers and sellers.
The amendment of section 2 will facilitate the updating of the register and allow for the deletion of entries in the register, which clearly do not reflect current reality given the consolidation in the numbers of growers and packers. I am also making provision for inspection of the register to ensure the traceability route is fully in place and I will make the necessary arrangements to have the register available for inspection via the website of the Department of Agriculture and Food.
The Act applies only to potatoes grown in the State and will not affect imports. Imports into Ireland are required to have a plant passport label issued by an official body in the country of origin. This label may show either the official registered grower number or the official packer number in accordance with European Union regulations. These changes are in the interests of producers, consumers and Ireland incorporated, and in the common interest of assuring the provision of quality product and broader macro-consumer opportunity. I hope the amendments are acceptable to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State. The measure is disappointing in its treatment of Irish producers and packers of potatoes. Growers and packers already have licence numbers and their products are quality guaranteed. No matter how the Department legislates for the identification of imported foreign products, we cannot have the same confidence in such products. In the next few weeks, imports of new potatoes will begin coming into the country yet it is not possible to discover their origin. Given that Irish products must compete side by side with such imports, it is unfair that the same standards do not apply to both sets of products.
Traceability is the key, as the Minister of State pointed out. When the Minister was in the House at an earlier Stage of the Bill, I questioned him about the traceability of beef. I highlighted a case known to the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, of a restaurant owner who produced beef in the fields outside his restaurant in County Galway. He was approached by what I will call a certifying agent on behalf of Bia Linn, and told his premises could be certified if he purchased beef through a particular agent. The owner told the agent he did not want certification of this kind because he had his own supply of beef, the traceability of which was beyond doubt, and he wanted to keep that supply.
The officer said it could not be done. The owner decided not to follow that direction because he said the agent nominated to give certification had imported from South America substantial amounts of beef for the Irish market and the catering industry. This appears to suggest that traceability means nothing. There should be legitimate statutory certification of a situation which is totally out of control and about which something needs to be done. The Minister for Agriculture and Food said he would deal with the matter in the legislation but he has not done so. We are talking about potatoes in this instance. It is difficult to understand why we are in this situation. It is important to have traceability in respect of quality Irish products, whether they are potatoes, vegetables or other produce. However, imported products do not and cannot have the same traceability.
That is a pity. There is no indication that we have the capacity or willingness to scrutinise the origins and traceability of imported products, particularly food products, with which we are competing and probably will have to compete with to a greater degree in the future.
I note that Senator Burke has moved from a potato dish to a beef dish. We are discussing the potato situation. We are bringing forward proposals, and we have already brought forward secondary legislation, to protect, guarantee and support indigenous production in this country for the farmers of the nation.
We certainly have done so and I have been involved in it. There is an outstanding division in the Department of Agriculture and Food which has done an outstanding job at inspectorate, management and administration level. Huge progress has been made and the IFA and farming organisations, particularly the growers, are very pleased with it. We are copperfastening what we are doing in this primary legislation.
I made it clear in my contribution that the situation pertaining to imports is that they must have a plant passport label, issued by an official body in the country of origin. The label must show either the official registered grower number or the official packer number in accordance with European Union regulations. There is an absolute guarantee of identity and traceability in regard to from where the product is coming. Imports are subject to EU law and, therefore, there is traceability on imports. We have our inspectors, as have Customs and Excise. Therefore, there is a double opportunity for Ireland to pursue very rigorous inspections to protect that traceability and provide a guarantee of quality. I emphasise that imports must have either a producer's or packers' number which is officially controlled in the country of origin.
I do not wish to interrupt the debate which appears riveting. We are tied to 11.30 a.m. which should not be the case because there will be time at the other end. I propose a change to the Order of Business to extend the time for this debate by 15 minutes.
I thank the Leader for giving us that flexibility. In response to Senator Burke, the Minister, Deputy Walsh, wrote to the Senator following the last Seanad debate outlining the position in regard to Féile Bia. Féile Bia requires that suppliers must sign up for the product they supply under the Féile Bia logo. It does not suit all suppliers to sign up and, consequently, they will not do so.
If the Senator has de facto information about misappropriation in any system and he tells us who did it, where it was done and how it happened, we will have it followed up and pursued. The Minister for Agriculture and Food responded to the Senator specifically on this issue and made the position quite clear. I expect that the Senator will respect and accept what he said about our being here to work in the interests of Ireland, its people and its products and will continue to do so.
Amendment No. 2 is a technical amendment which rectifies a typographical error from "2001" to "2003". Amendment No. 3 is another amendment which originated in this House, when Senator Quinn suggested — and it has been accepted — that the term "not fewer" is more appropriate than "not less" in reference to people. While the term "no fewer" might be equally appropriate, the term "not fewer" already appears in the principal Act and has been adopted on that basis to maintain consistency.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and his colleagues for their tremendous co-operation and the positive attitude which has always been adopted in this House in respect of legislation. I thank Senators for their very personal and collective contributions to successive Bills in this House. Seanad Éireann has played a huge role over the years in contributing to quality legislation for which I thank Members.
I am delighted to see the Minister of State in the House and welcome the speedy and successful resolution he has brought to this Bill, including grammatical corrections and dates which are important to the future. I thank the Minister of State and my colleagues.